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Monday, April 21

Updated: May 19, 2:02 PM ET

Who'll deliver the knockout blow?

By EJ Hradek
ESPN The Magazine

It's not unlike Rocky II, Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed, the Toronto Maple Leafs vs. the Philadelphia Flyers.

That's almost where it's at heading into Monday night's Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at the Air Canada Centre. The Flyers grabbed a 3-2 series lead with a 4-1 win Saturday, leaving everyone to wonder if the Leafs can peel themselves off the ice and force a Game 7 on Tuesday.

"These guys have been delivering body blows for five games," said Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock, who himself looked a bit worn after Saturday's tilt. "On both sides, the guys are tired. You can see everybody is pretty leg-weary out there."

The first round of the playoffs has featured the most multiple overtime games (five) since the current format was adopted in 1994. The Leafs and Flyers have played two of them -- a 4-3 win in Game 3 by the Leafs (2 OTs) and a 3-2 win in Game 4 by the Flyers (3 OTs).

According to Hitchcock, the last team standing will be the one that makes the most of its downtime.

"The most important thing in the time leading up to Game 6 will be rest," Hitchcock said. "We need to manage our time and bodies correctly."

Hitchcock won't have to worry about managing time for his top defenseman Eric Desjardins, who suffered a broken bone in his right foot after being hit by an Owen Nolan slap shot during the third period of Game 5. Desjardins, who's second among Flyers defensemen in average ice time (27:37) only to Kim Johnsson (28:18), is expected to miss 2-4 weeks.

"He [Desjardins] has been spectacular for us," said Flyers captain Keith Primeau, who received a rare minor penalty for interference from the bench for facewashing Tie Domi late in Game 5. "Every time he goes in the corner, he comes out with the puck. Not many defensemen are capable of doing that."

Rookie Jim Vandermeer, who played in 24 regular-season games, will replace Desjardins for Game 6.

Hitchcock will begin the game with the left shooting Vandermeer in Desjardins' spot on the right, alongside veteran Chris Therien. Therien and Desjardins have been defensive partners for the good portion of their time in Philly (both joined the Flyers in 1995). In fact, Therien hasn't enjoyed a great deal of success when he's been paired with someone other than Desjardins.

With the last line change, Leafs coach Pat Quinn will try to get his top line -- centered by Mats Sundin -- on the ice against Vandermeer and Therien.

If Sundin and Co. can exploit that matchup -- and goalie Ed Belfour's turns back the clock on his 38th birthday -- the Leafs may regain their footing for Game 7.

E.J. Hradek writes hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ej.hradek@espnmag.com.

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